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We’re nearing the end of the London 2013 budget process! This is where we are in the cycle:

  • Budget 2013 overview: January 9: COMPLETE
  • Build a Budget public information session: January 12: COMPLETE
  • First public participation meeting: January 14: COMPLETE
  • Operating budget meeting: January 24-25: COMPLETE
  • Operating & Capital budget meeting: February 7-8: COMPLETE
  • Special budget meeting: Monday, February 11th: COMPLETE
  • Second public participation meeting: Wednesday February 13th: COMPLETE
  • Final budget vote: Thursday February 28th, 4pm, Council Chambers

For months, the city has been collecting information and feedback through many venues, including the Build A Budget process, public participation meetings, direct contact (meetings, phone calls, e-mails etc.) with City Council, and social media (including receiving information through the Facebook page and Twitter (@CityofLdnOnt and the hashtag #LdnBudget13).

After several public consultations, days of Council budget meetings, and countless hours of city staff time, all of this work and time culminates in one night of the final budget decisions being made by Council, likely into the early hours of Friday.

One great way to get involved is to come see the process live! You can check out all of the budget documents (broken down for easy reading by major sections of interest) here, and come to the meeting to see how it all works. You can follow along/join the conversation on Twitter, as many Londoners (including me, @BrianGibson13) will be posting updates throughout the meeting. You can also watch the proceedings from home through the city’s livestream, available here during the meeting.

This is a terrific opportunity to participate in the city, and learn how your tax dollars are spent. It’s also a great way to come to City Hall for the first time if you haven’t been there before, and watch the 15 people that shape our city on our behalf. It is my hope to stay for the entire meeting tonight, I’d be very grateful for company if you’ll join me!

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one year later

One year ago it was revealed that Mayor Fontana and most of the “Fontana 8” met together for lunch ahead of the final 2012 budget votes. It raised serious questions about the group’s conduct, what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour from councillors, the consequences of such actions, and what can be done about it. I tried my best to follow the issue, and wrote these three posts about it.

These are some of the highlights:

  • Councillors on either side of the invite list saw the event very differently. Councillors Baechler, Branscombe and others that weren’t at the meeting stated that the situation raises serious questions about public perception, and all Council members operating in a transparent manner. Councillor Baechler commented: “Members of council are equal participants at the council table. When you start pulling aside a select group it is seen to be backdoor deals and private deals. So yes, I have a big problem with it.”
  • Councillors that were at the meeting insisted that it was only a meeting of colleagues, which happens in many other professions without incident. Councillor Orser said in a statement to local media that he would have ‘din-din’ with whomever he likes, while Councillor Henderson said that the complaints about the meeting were coming from “sore losers”. There was some conflicting stories of what occurred, Councillor Denise Brown stated that no business whatsoever was mentioned, while Councillor Henderson said that the contentious cut to affordable housing was talked about, as well as other budget matters.
  • Complaints were made to the Ontario Ombudsman about the event, which set into motion his office’s process. An initial probe of the incident lead to the Ombudsman opening an investigation, including interviews with Council members to get to the bottom of the incident. This was the second time in six months the OO opened an investigation into London City Council, the previous one pertaining to Council’s conduct in using in-camera sessions to debate evicting Occupy London from Victoria Park.
  • The Ombudsman concluded in his report that the meeting didn’t contravene the Municipal Act, but was ill-conceived. He wrote: “I am more disturbed by the fact that a number of council members gathered in the manner they did shortly before an important council meeting on the city budget. While these council members did not have the legal authority to exercise the collective will of council, the public impression left is still unsavoury,”.
  • Comments made by councillors exposed a great deal of confusion about the role of the Ontario Ombudsman. He asked to speak before London City Council to clear the air, and was accepted to speak before council at the end of August 2012. He addressed accusations such as that his office was being used  as a “political weapon”, responding that his office takes in over 18,000 complaints annually, and only those thought to have merit based on initial probes are fully investigated.
  • A great deal of debate about the Ombudsman and his role was part of the fall-out of the investigation. Some councillors continued to berate him even after the public meeting, insist that the complaint process allowing anonymity is undemocratic, and that the investigation was a waste of taxpayer dollars. Others argued that this process indicates that, although the Ombudsman’s office does great work, the Ontario Ombudsman Act needs to be strengthened to give the office more authority. As well, it has been argued that this process further exposed the need in London of an integrity commissioner.

This takes us to this week.

On Monday, London civic blogger Philip McLeod reported in this post that the Fontana 8 (minus Denise Brown) had met the previous Saturday for a friendly get-together at Billy T’s Tap & Grill. However, the details are a little hazy. A couple members were invited by Mayor Fontana to chat, not at all about city business, and a few others happened by. Or, they were all invited? It was very public, in one of the main rooms. Or, it was in a private room, but only because the owner recognized who they were and insisted? Or, no wait, Mayor Fontana booked a private room specifically for this purpose?

Needless to say, this raises a great deal of questions, especially as the final budget decisions will be made February 28th. The story has been further exposed by the Free Press and Metro News, with many citizens questioning the wisdom of conducting an almost identical meeting on the anniversary of the lunch that triggered the previous Ombudsman investigation. The Free Press now reports that Mayor Fontana may have called a majority of the economic prosperity committee together…to talk about economic prosperity business, the kind of conduct which is definitely forbidden under Ontario’s rules about governing transparently.

My concern is that the Ombudsman’s report didn’t entirely sink in for some members of Council under the microscope. Worse, when members like Councillor Orser announced they were “vindicated” by the findings of the Ombudsman’s report, they may have felt that they could have future meetings with impunity. None of this is to the good of public confidence in politics, shaky enough as it is. As Councillor Baechler has stated from this issue:

You can’t do business behind closed doors if you are to be an open, accountable, transparent government. Any time these things happen, there is always the chance the ombudsman will be called in. It doesn’t give the public confidence in their council, it makes them question the judgment of council as a whole.

So what can we do?

Some of the suggestions from this are pushing the provincial government to update the Municipal Act in a number of ways, as well as pushing Council to adopt oversight methods.

I fear that it may not be possible with a majority of this present council.

But next? I am excited by the prospect of what the 2014 election can bring. I hope that we will see many candidates that will run on an “ethics and accountability” platform, vowing to put into place a Council integrity commissioner, a lobby registry, and other methods of keeping Council business as public as possible.

How can this happen? It is up to all of us.

As we approach the 2014 election, and we see the field of candidates, make it an election priority. Speak to the candidates that interest you, become part of their campaign team, and tell them that this is something that matters deeply to you. I think we’ll find this is something that will resonate with many Londoners as well.

We’ve struggled as a city through many controversies, and I hear many Londoners say they feel powerless in the face of yet another poor decision that is reflecting badly on all of us. We must do everything we can to turn the tide and restore personal and overall public confidence in our City Hall. We can start now, but major shifts can happen in 2014 at the ballot box.

Shortly after writing Why Public Transit Matters, we had our second public participation meeting around London Budget 2013 (#ldnbudget13), with many great speakers around a variety of issues. A common set of themes for many was public transit, active transit, public health, the environment, and how they can all work together.

Photo credit: Wired magazine http://www.wired.com/autopia/2008/10/bikes-on-board/

I searched online for future strategies and existing examples, and quickly found many. This picture is from a Wired Magazine article on San Francisco’s Caltrain system, which was one of the first to allow bikes on board. The article explains that the idea was so popular with commuters that it soon became unsustainable, because of the demand for bike space outstripped the availability of train cars. Possible solutions include having a bike renting/sharing program, or having additional bike racks at the station for “beater bikes”, one you can leave overnight so it’s waiting for you to get you from the station to work and back. Why is combining rail/bus transit with biking/walking transit so attractive? From the article:

“Transit trips are way up,” Tim Blumenthal, head of the national bike advocacy group Bikes Belong, told Wired.com. “More buses have racks on the front, and more light rail and subways are allowing bicycles on board even during peak hours.” According to Blumenthal, the benefits of bicycle transit trips are huge: commuters lose weight while the air gets cleaner, and highways get less crowded while America starts to recover from its oil addiction.

There are many benefits to both public and active transit, and creating a city that fosters both would help us towards being a sustainable, healthy community. A green strategy report by the City of Vancouver states:

How we move around a city makes a big difference to our quality of life. The air we breathe, the amount of land we need, our physical health and well-being, and the cost of travel are all impacted by our transportation choices. Green transportation includes transit, as well as active transportation like cycling and walking. It is also about the places we see and experiences we have on the way to our destinations.

This report “Walking to Public Transit: Steps to Help Meet Physical Activity Recommendations” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention covers the direct health benefits of taking public transit. It identifies that the Surgeon General recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity, yet nearly half of Americans don’t meet these guidelines. Many may receive the recommended amount simply by walking to and from public transit, which increases their activity drastically over driving a personal vehicle.

 As well, Toronto has examined the health and financial benefits of encouraging walking and biking in the city in this report, “Road to Health”. As the quote below shows, there are a great deal of human and financial benefits to be considered when building active transportation infrastructure:

Higher levels of physical activity through increased cycling and walking can significantly reduce an individual’s risk of a number of chronic diseases and prevent deaths. Based on very conservative calculations, 2006 levels of walking and cycling in Toronto are estimated to prevent about 120 deaths each year. Total savings from these prevented deaths range from $130 million to $478 million depending on how deaths are valued. Savings in direct medical costs arising from residents staying active by walking and cycling are estimated to provide a further economic benefit of $110 to $160 million.

London as well as communities including KitchenerTorontoVancouver,  and Hamilton are shaping comprehensive strategies for our transportation future. London’s SmartMoves 2030 Transportation Master Plan (full report found here) lays out ambitious goals for lowering London’s reliance on cars and creating a city that is denser, more efficient and easier to move through alternative transportation methods.

Personal vehicles were once a North American symbol of empowerment, opportunity and freedom. However, younger generations are now driving much less than their parents, often foregoing driving a car entirely to embrace public transit, biking and walking. This shift is happening slowly, but this may very well be our transportation future as more and more people look for ways to get around that are healthier, more sustainable and better for the environment.

So what can we do?

London’s SmartMoves project is moving forward. We can follow its progress and advocate for the program. We can also work to change our commuting habits, and tell Council that we are looking for a public transportation system that makes getting around the city affordable, efficient and pleasant. We can follow the LTC and see how the service can be improved/enhanced to better service the London we want to build together. And we can push the city to continue to invest in path and bike lane infrastructure so we and future generations and move through our city effectively without relying on cars.

Thursday February 28, Council will vote on London Budget 2013 (#ldnbudget13), and how our tax dollars will be spent in the year ahead. It is an excellent opportunity to see how Council operates and represents us, hope to see you there!

Next post: Our transit future

not in service

I wrote this post last month about why I believe that the public library is a core pillar to the vitality of any community, and why London Public Library should be granted the increase it needs during the London budget deliberations to maintain their excellent level of service.

The library is one of several pillars we depend on for a truly vibrant, livable and desirable city, and it ties in with others including education. We also need to be able to easily move throughout our community, and the experience should be as safe, comfortable and pleasant as possible. Placemaking, urban design, land planning, and an integrated transit system including public transit are key components. It is about this last area that I want to cover in this post, even as it is under consideration for (further) underinvestment/cuts from our city.

I came to London in 2004 to study at Fanshawe, and graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Integrated Land Planning Technology. As a student and new resident of the city, I accepted the public transit pass I was given with my tuition gladly, and used it to explore all over our city. Many trips were crowded, noisy, smelly, hot/cold and uncomfortable, but they got me where I needed to go.

But as I continued to travel year after year, I was turned away at the door more often as the bus was packed to capacity, and more often the bus never came at all. But the real awakening happened for me when I spent a summer co-op working in Hamilton/Burlington at the Royal Botanical Gardens, living in Hamilton. The bus wait times were extremely short, there was BRT to the McMaster area where I lived, the stops already had unique numbers posted so you could call to check schedules, even the high traffic commuter routes weren’t overcrowded, and the service was always excellent. If the driver saw you running, they would stop and wait. That’s right. Stop. And. Wait. For. You. It was tough to say goodbye to the HSR and return to the LTC at the end of the summer.

I am amazed that as the city talks about economic development, being an enterprising and forward-thinking community grasping for the future, we slip backwards in so many ways against our surrounding neighbours, and competitors. Groups like Emerging Leaders work tirelessly to work with the city to encourage and keep young talented minds in our city, and advocate for services students and new graduates depend on, including an efficient, effective and affordable public transit system. But despite this, I have watched the LTC slip further and further behind as it is underappreciated and underfunded by City Council, under both mayors AMDB and Fontana.

In my undergrad thesis project “Estimating Population…”, I examined through GIS technology how we currently examine population, and how estimates may be performed to create a more accurate understanding of our populations, our people, who they are. But the crux of my research was to examine not just where they are but how they move, how they get to where they desire to go, and how easily this is done. A multitude of different movement systems, including affordable, dependable and efficient public transit, are necessary to create a community where people of all walks of life have an equal opportunity.

This is the bare minimum. Layered on top of these considerations by urban designers is the much more intangible experience, examining what one experiences as they move through their environment, and how this can be heightened for the betterment of the entire community.

As I said, we rely on public transportation as well as the sidewalks, bike paths and nature trails of the city to get to everywhere we need and want to go. We depend on London’s public transportation system, yet have watched the service quality and quantity deteriorate instead of improve since I moved here in 2004.

I’m frustrated as I hear many say they would like to use the transit service, only it is always too crowded, and that the wait times are far too long (completely legitimate concerns), then as members of council criticize the low level of service, imply that the LTC is squandering what little money they do receive, and say that, somehow, it will get better subsisting on less, they’re not being “creative” enough. The LTC’s main webpage now displays a breakdown of their expenses, and what will have to be cut to reach a budget increase target of 0%, including a staggering cut to ridership (351,400 on conventional and 17,000 on specialized).

I’ve also been dismayed to see and hear many refuse to use the transit service, with a great deal of words like “I’m not a bus person”, “I don’t want to share a bus with them“, etc. What dismays me about this kind of language is this othering, placing space between who we are and who “they” are, both implying a betterment of one over another, as well as the assumption public transit is only for those that can’t afford to have their own vehicle, instead of a legitimate transit option for everyone. I often say “But I’m a bus person”, which is sometimes met with bafflement, or, “No you’re not…you know what I mean”.

The thing is, I wish we were all “bus people”. Our transit system is part of the lifeblood of our city, and it deserves investment from us, but it also needs to be recognized by City Hall as a necessity. That’s why I’m so glad to see the new advocacy group LTC bus people (covered recently in this Londoner article, found on Facebook and on Twitter @LTCBusPeople). Amanda Stratton (@‏AmandaStratton), who started the group, has this to say: “Everybody recognizes the importance of (public transit) and building a city around it except the people who are setting the policies”.

Shobhita Sharma (@LondonerShobh), who wrote the Londoner article, made this observation:

The LTC Bus People collective has come up during an interesting time in the city’s history as councillors battle to maintain Mayor Joe Fontana’s promise of a zero per cent tax increase in property taxes for a third straight year. The flip side to the tax freeze? Despite how politicians like to word it, services, including those provided by the LTC, could receive a severe blow resulting in restricted service on some routes and complete elimination of certain others.

Public transit is vital to our city. Quality of public transportation is even one of the factors used to measure the world’s most livable cities. In the preliminary budget talks, service cuts that were on the table were voted down, but councillors did vote to eliminate the $500,000 transit replacement request the service made, despite warnings that failing to maintain the fleet only kicked problems further down the road.

The LTC is a vital service, and only one of many being voted on during the budget process. This week on Wednesday Feb 13 is the second public participation meeting, and the final deliberations are Feb 28. These are the biggest decisions Council will make all year, choosing how our municipal taxes are spent. Make sure to speak out, participate, and have your say!

Next post: Public transit, active transit

0

I’m glad to be writing again! It has been a few weeks since my last post. I’ve had a lot happening personally, including ongoing winter illness, adopting a new rabbit named Sammy (who was originally Samus until we discovered she is a he), following the budget process (but due to writer’s block unable to articulate my thoughts about it), and getting Sammy fixed (vet care at King Animal Clinic was perfect as always, and he’s recovering well). I’m hoping to get back into the regular habit of writing, and posting about a variety of topics in the weeks ahead, although this month will be likely dominated by London budget issues. Speaking of… 

We’re nearing the end of the London 2013 budget process! This is where we are in the cycle:

  • Budget 2013 overview: January 9: COMPLETE
  • Build a Budget public information session: January 12: COMPLETE
  • First public participation meeting: January 14: COMPLETE
  • Operating budget meeting: January 24-25: COMPLETE
  • Operating & Capital budget meeting: February 7-8: ONGOING
  • Special budget meeting: Monday, February 11th (continuing Feb 7-8 meeting), 4pm, Council Chambers
  • Second public participation meeting: Wednesday February 13th, 4pm, Council Chambers
  • Final budget vote: Thursday February 28th, 4pm, Council Chambers

You can continue to voice your opinion in a variety of ways:

  • This handy page is the “Build a Budget” project, where you can select the items you believe should be cut or kept, with the tax increase (starting at 4.3%, and widdled down as you select items to cut) shown live. It also contains the full council contact listing for your convenience, as getting in touch with council is an excellent way to lend your thoughts to the process!
  • The budget finance team is also collecting input through social media, including on the city Facebook page and through twitter, to their handle @CityofLdnOnt and using the hashtag #LdnBudget13. You can also follow the proceedings on Twitter through the variety of people that will be live-tweeting, including me (@BrianGibson13).
  • Seeing the process live! You can check out all of the budget documents (broken down for easy reading by major sections of interest)here, and join in the conversation by coming out to the public participating meeting. See the decisions being made at council meetings today and on the 28th. You can also watch the proceedings from home through the city’s livestream.

This is a terrific opportunity to participate in the city, and learn how your tax dollars are spent. It’s also a great way to come to City Hall for the first time if you haven’t been there before, and watch the 15 people that shape our city on our behalf. It is my hope to stay for the entire February 28th meeting, I’d be very grateful for company if you’ll join me!

Next post: Why Public Transit Matters

Books

In my previous post I described how our public library is a vital city service and I voiced my concern about the 0% budget. The library (and every other city service) is being mandated to hit a 0% 2013 budget, which will result in service cuts (as laid out in this statement on the library’s website).

Please consider this important issue. Please get involved and contact City Council to let them know how you feel about the cuts to the London Public Library (and other services vital to our city) to reach a third 0% tax freeze this year. This page has a guide to the city’s wards and how to contact City Council, and below is the letter I have submitted to council. You’re welcome to use it as a template if you’d like to!

——————

To London City Council,

I write today to ask that as you shape our 2013 budget, you consider how much the public library means to Londoners. In 2011 (according to the library’s website), 3.2 million people visited a library location, 1.31 million people asked library staff for help finding information, 4.25 million items were borrowed, 192,000 people attended a program, 972,000 holds were placed on items, 567,000 uses of library computers were logged, and 4.5 million people visited the library website. Absolutely stunning numbers!

As well, they write that “London has the highest annual library use per capita in Ontario at 40.6 annual uses per capita (median use is 28.1), according to the most recent OMBI report. London has the lowest operating cost per use in Ontario at $1.27 per use, according to the most recent OMBI report. In a 2012 survey, overall public satisfaction with library service was at 97.9%. 96.3% of people surveyed felt that the Library gives good value for taxpayer dollar spent.”

Our public library is so much more than just the books on the shelves. Libraries are a gateway to early literacy, social programs, and continue to be one of the key community hubs for a city. Libraries are also important community centres, with classes for numerous social skills, job search portals, community lectures, research centres, and much more. In London, we’re fortunate to have a central library that includes a community lecture and performance hall, as well as easy access to city and county records and archives.

I write to you to ask that you would consider this as you examine the hard budget decisions before you. I understand that you want to ensure that tax payer dollars are spent in the most efficient and appropriate ways possible, which is absolutely commendable. However, I’m concerned that without proper funding for our library as well as our public safety, transportation and community service programs, we will pay much more in the long run by running ineffective programs stretched beyond their means, failing to serve the people that rely on these services.

As you consider the public library and how important it is to our city, please also examine the overall cost the goal of 0% tax increase will have on our city. As we get into the budget process, London Public Library, London Transit Commission, London Community Foundation, Pillar Nonprofit Network and United Way London & Middlesex have all spoken out against the path to 0% and the cuts that will be necessary to reach the target this year. More organizations will likely join them as the budget process continues, and the cost that will be born by London’s most vulnerable.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Sincerely,

Brian Gibson, Ward 2

——————

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for considering this important issue. The budget process impacts us all, and the decisions we make now will impact our city for years to come. The great thing is that there are many ways to get involved!

There are several public participation meetings over the next two months, culminating in the final budget approval February 28th. The link has all the important dates, and all sessions will be streamed live. These are a terrific opportunity to see Council in action and to see first hand the decisions they’re making on the budget. Today the first public participation meeting starts at City Hall at 4pm, with many community groups and organizations slated to speak to the budget and the impact it will have.

You can  also e-mail, Facebook, call (Financial Planning @ 519-661-4638) and Tweet (@CityofLdnOnt) to the City budget teams with your ideas. If you’re on Twitter, you can also use the hashtag #LdnBudget13 to post your thoughts.

Please get involved London, and have your say!

Books

I’ve always loved books.

I feel like I almost grew up in the library of my home town of Wiarton. My mom was one of the librarians there, and I spent long afternoons buried behind the shelves, amazed that (as it seemed to me at the time) all of human knowledge was available to me there. My time there helped foster an enduring appreciation for books and reading, and a thirst for knowledge and further learning and discovery.

But libraries are so much more than books. Libraries are a gateway to early literacy, social programs, and continue to be one of the key community hubs for a city. Libraries are also important community centres, with classes for numerous social skills, job search portals, community lectures, research centres, and much more. In London, we’re fortunate to have a central library that includes a community lecture and performance hall, as well as easy access to city and county records and archives.

As we discuss the city budget, and where to place our resources as the city struggles with stubbornly high unemployment levels, it may seem like an old-fashioned, bricks, mortar and paper institution like the library would be an easy place to find cuts. For sure, with the advent of the internet, many organizations and businesses have struggled to keep up. Businesses including major music and video rental stores have closed, unable to compete as their services became increasingly available online.

Despite this, London’s library system is only seeing both its physical and digital attendance growing. The numbers the library lists on its website show how indispensable a service it provides to our community. The library took the bold step of actually posting a news release to their website to outline how busy they have been, and how a third straight 0% would impact them. The release states that in 2011:

  • 3.2 million people visited a library location
  • 1.31 million people asked our staff for help finding information, materials and other resources
  • 4.25 million items were borrowed
  • 192,000 people attended a program, including those for newcomers, teens, job-seekers, new parents, seniors and those looking to connect with all this city has to offer
  • 972,000 holds were placed on items
  • 567,000 uses of our public computers were logged, many by those without access to the Internet or a computer in their home
  • 4.5 million people visited our website

As well, this opinion piece by LFP’s Ian Gillespie shares more good news:

According to a recent report from the Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative (OMBI), London has the highest annual library use per capita in Ontario at 40.6 annual uses per person (the median use is 28.1).

And with an annual budget of about $19.5 million, London’s libraries boast the lowest operating cost per use in Ontario, at $1.27 per use, according to  OMBI.

More than half of all Londoners possess a library card, and in 2011 they used library services nearly 15 million times.

And those users were happy, too: A 2012 survey showed overall public satisfaction with library service was at a whopping 97.9%.

It seems stunning that despite this information, council is pressing for the library to find more ways to cut funding, without somehow harming service. This year, it just isn’t possible. There are many hard decisions in the 2013 London budget on this third year of the “Path to 0%”, as each year compounds the cuts of the last. This year, to achieve 0% the library warns that it will have to reduce service by reducing service hours in most locations, removing Sunday service entirely, and offering fewer items to borrow.

As I said, our community relies on the library services far beyond borrowing books. Many Londoners rely on the library services for their internet access, for job searching, for resume and job search advice, and for life skill training. If the library is required to meet a target of 0% by council, it will be one more way that 0% will cut services to Londoners most in need.

The London Public Library is only one of many community organizations speaking out, and I imagine the din will only rise as we get closer to the budget process. The London Community Foundation posted this letter on their website, also outlining the impact a third straight budget of 0% will have. They state:

London Community Foundation has traditionally preferred to influence public policy with a light, often unseen hand. This year we have joined Pillar Nonprofit Network and United Way London & Middlesex to collectively voice our concerns on the proposed City of London budget because we strongly agree that those who are most vulnerable will be disproportionately impacted by proposed changes and cuts.

Please, speak out to support our vital library system. My next post will be a letter to council, including information on how to contact your councillor as well as the entire City Council. Please reflect on what the library means to you, and how it helps those members of our society most in need. Contact your member of Council, and participate in the budget process to make sure your voice is heard!

budget

We’re now getting into the dreaded “budget season”, where the city lays out the budget for the year ahead. But it doesn’t have to be painful.

It can even be insightful, interesting…even fun…?

This is an excellent time for all of us to reflect on our vision for our city, and analyze how closely Council’s vision (coined the “Path to Zero”, or 0% tax increase) falls in line with our personal values. It is an excellent time to get to know our member of council, see how they represent us, connect with the entire council, and meet and discuss with other Londoners about an issue that impacts us all.

And there are many ways to get involved! For the first time, the city has created a budget participation project similar to “ReThink London” for the planning process. They are encouraging Londoners to connect and participate in a number of ways, including:

  • Check out the main budget page, and read through the budget documents. The documents are broken down by the main services, so subjects of interest can be found easily without reading through the entire (massive) report.
  • Read, listen to, and contemplate opinion pieces on this proposed budget. As we get closer to the budget sessions London media will have many different writers and speakers discussing this important issue. Two blogs I recommend are by Abe Oudshoorn (@AbeOudshoorn) and Philip McLeod (@TheMcLeodReport), Citizen Corps also has a list of London bloggers.
  • Build A Budget Workshop happening Saturday January 12th at the top floor of City Hall (see this link for more details). It will be an opportunity to learn the about the budget, and ask questions and provide input into the process. Citizens, Mayor Fontana, Councillors and senior City staff are invited to come together for this event. I’ll be at the afternoon session, hope to see you there!
  • There are several public participation meetings over the next two months, culminating in the final budget approval February 28th. The link has all the important dates, and all sessions (except the Build A Budget) will be streamed live. These are a terrific opportunity to see Council in action and to see first hand the decisions they’re making on the budget.
  • You can e-mail, Facebook, call (Financial Planning @ 519-661-4638) and Tweet (@CityofLdnOnt) to the City with your ideas. If you’re on Twitter, you can also use the hashtag #LdnBudget13 to post your throughts.
  • Meet, call, write your Councillor with your ideas about the budget, and hear their thoughts about the process.
  • Discuss with other citizens, read about the budget process, blog your thoughts! The more people that are thinking about and analyzing where our collective money is going, the better it is for our city. I hope that this year many Londoners new to the process will become involved (as I did last year), and many more will become even more invested this year.

This can actually be an exciting time of year, and is truly an opportunity to become more involved in our city. It is my hope that we can use this time to connect as a community, invision our future and work to find a way to make it happen in a way that can be to the satisfaction and benefit to as many as possible.

As Philip McLeod states in his latest blog post“What is important to you about the services the city now provides in exchange for your tax dollars? What do you value most? It’s time to speak up, London. After all, we pay for this budget.”

new year

As we start the new year with new goals, aspirations and motivations, my hope is that we will all become more involved with shaping out future.

One of the best ways we can do this is to connect with those that make policy decisions, at all levels of government. This year, let’s work to create relationships, get to know them as people, beyond the issues that directly impact us. Let’s work to celebrate their hard work and achievements, and when critical of their policy do it fairly, without tearing them down personally.

This year, get to know your member of Council. Get to know their personality, their policies, see how they represent you, your community and the greater city. Discuss with them where your views converge, and where they part. As well, there are many groups that work to make London politics exciting and accessible, including Citizen Corps (@CitizenCorpsLDN).

And get to know the entire council! Read news reports about council/committee sessions about the issues impacting your community, and the entire city. Join events like the Build A Budget sessions coming up later this month, and spend time at City Hall. As we enter the important budget season, get to know the people making decisions on our behalf.

Don’t forget that City Hall belongs to us citizens, we paid for it, and collectively we dictate what happens there. We elect our officials, and even if the person we voted for isn’t our councillor, they still work for us. They represent us, and they are obligated to represent the views of the majority of their constituents. Make sure that they know how to represent you, don’t let the vocal minority swing votes when you and your neighbours silently disagree. It’s as easy as a phone call, an email, or being really brave and inviting your councillor out for coffee. It may take some time, because they’re busy people, but a councillor worth their salary will always say yes to a face-to-face meeting.

Going to City Hall for the first time may seem daunting, but not only is it where city business happens, it is our civic centre to meet, discuss, debate and share concerns with our elected representatives. There is also an excellent cafeteria open to the public on the top floor, with breathtaking views of the city. If you haven’t been before, make 2o13 the year you check out City Hall!

In the end, council is made up of people working to move forward our city, though their visions of that future may conflict. I hope that each and every one of us can share our vision for the city, and work with them to find a future built on common ground. This year, let’s meet, collaborate, discuss, debate and dream together.